Demonstrations of startups in Gulf

9 03 2010

Startups in MENA

I visited DemoCamp yesterday , Demo Camp is demonstration of various startups in Middle East (MENA) region organized by StartUp Arabia. The demos gave me a glimpse of the type, quality and the size of start up ventures in Gulf  mainly UAE.

Venture capitalist in town

The event was started by Dubai Internet City , commercial operations Director (which I missed) then a great presentation themed “The Glimmer of Greatness” by Feroz Sanaulla who is executive director of Intel Capital which is a subsidiary of Intel Corporation and has been helping various startups in the region for quite sometime.  He gave an idea of how start up entrepreneurs struggle to connect with venture capitalists and what qualities he wants to see in entrepreneurs.  Passion, Perserverance and Patience were the three P’s he saw in successful entrepreneurs. His four rules of success were “Execution, Execution, Execution and Luck!” Adding there were some outliers like Google, facebook et al who made it big unlike hundred others.  Mr Feroz has helped raise awareness among the authorities in Dubai stating the startups costs in UAE were high. IntelCapital has helped eight investments including Pulse, ShooFeeTV and Sphere Networks, with a total investment budget of about $50 million.

Demonstrations

Demo 1: Advergaming in MENA : Hyzonia

Hyzonia.com (Source:ameinfo.com)

There were six demos in total, first was by a presenter named Reza Ayati who was dressed up in white suit, white tie, white pants & white socks,  shoes , his lady colleague (Managing Director) was in white too. His supposedly 10 minute presentation went about 21 minutes long explaining everything from his point of view but leaving main parts like what is the size of market, how much does the service cost and what were the returns in one year of running (it took two years of development). There is potential in this venture as this is new niche which many companies would love to invest to promote their brands via gaming. The presentation was long, informative and monotonous and 20 people left after the presentation (about 300 people were in the room).

Demo 2: Online Wholesale furniture: FURNISHMarketplace

Furnishmarketplace.com

This part was presented by Geoff van Wijk , a Dutch, who apparently lived in UAE for past 5 years selling furniture to top hospitality hotels and mentioned he is now dealing with Royal Mirage.  He started with functionalities of the site which is in beta phase showing the ease of use and price structure. He also apparently failed as in previous deonstrator to show the main strong point why should I invest in your firm? What is the cashflow? How fast is it growing? etc. The presentation went about 17 mins and middle of presentation he let out a furniture lingo (like FIFO and FIFI) and I heard sighs from the crowd. After he was done, about 15 people left the hall.

Demo 3: Amazon for MENA: Shopmideast (not real site as not online yet)

ShopMideast

The Jordanian guy named Shihab Khalil started with difficulty of having a convenient e-commerce where it accepts currencies of different countries in MENA. His site provides and sells different items like Amazon site , it actually looks like Amazon site. He has a back end office in Jordan where most of the coding I believe would be done and the main office in Dubai. He didn’t give an idea how much he has spent and other details.

Demo 4: MENA professional network: Intheloop

Intheloop.me

This site is mainly like LinkedIn for middle east. I didn’t like LinkedIn because of it’s price structure where you have to be full member even to message. Rony El-Nashar started with demonstration of the site showing the ease of use and how people can post messages regarding positions available and hiring. He mentioned 6000 members joined in 5 months of use which is not bad at all. He was the one who has been grilled with so many questions like “why is there no arabic interface?” “There has been many arabic version of facebook, zinga but why did they fail?” He tried his best to answer the questions. I met him after the presentation and found he had five previous companies and sold his previous company “www.discountedproperties.com”. He holds MBA from London School of Economics and graduated form Computer Science from USA. A great speaker who is also a venture capitalist himself. At the end of presentation I met up with him and gave him some tips on how he can pitch and amplify the uniqueness of his site.

Demo 5: Flickr for MENA: Mysalbum

Mysalbum

This site was made by a Saudi guy named Saud Bin Mohammed. The site apparently named “My small album” was made like photobucket and Flickr (blocked in uae).  He went through the pricing system and showed a community of users who find mysalbum helpful. People questioned about the uniqueness of the site and one questioner asked sites are moving now to free usage why release a paid system? To which Mr Saud answered users in one way or the other pay the site.

By now only about 200 people were left.

Demo 6: Local Wedding Directory: Yebab

Wedding Directory: yebab.com

This demonstration made the evening as it had most of what an investor looks for. The uniqueness, research, ROI estimation and others. It surprisingly came from an Emirati, surprising because many people in the region assume Emiratis as free-riders. The site caters to unique niche and he showed one line market research “9000 weddings in region brides spent $2 billion dollars”. He went on to explain “Gulf bridal tourism” where brides go on shopping spree to other destinations before wedding. He made sure he explained the Emirati cultural wedding where groom pays the bride to do most of the shopping. He explained how he understands the niceties which many foreigners wont pick up, nuances like how far is the dressing room from stage, where is the location of the stage. His site apparently videotapes and posts online which gives virtual tour to the bride. He explained how he didn’t spent a cent in the launch which was $100,000 real wedding of his client where he invited press so he got free publicity. The site has free and premium membership and marketplace where vendors can sell their items in listings. These qualities of entrepreneurship, planning , being spendthrift, having unique knowledge of market ,  building unique relationship with vendors and clients, showing business plan won the best demo from my side.

Harsh reality

The demo was followed by quick glance of democamp by Tariq Al Asiri who went on explaining the length democamp has been running then showed a picture where out of 29 startups only 6 are showing signs of success i.e about 21% success rate. He added previous start ups failed to understand basic tenets of internet i.e service without borders and started arab version of facebook, flickr etc. The last point was agreed by Sahil Alvi from KPMG who added “other than Yebab, others need somewhat of soul searching to do” which I concurred with.

It was a great event where I got a glimpse of startups in MENA & I hope to take advantage of this knowledge in future.